Keyword Research: How to Create Content That Builds Organic Traffic in 2016
We’ve all been there:
You’re with a friend and you have a disagreement.
You say The Beatles sold more records than The Rolling Stones. He says otherwise.
So you do the only thing you can do in that situation:
You ask Google.
And like the magic genie that it is, Google provides you the answer (and proves you were right).
But Google settles more than bets—it solves problems.
Every day, millions of people—including your prospective customers—type their problems into Google, in hopes of having them solved…
…and it’s your responsibility as a business owner to help them do that.
It’s no secret:
With Google’s Hummingbird Update in 2013, it’s no longer enough to launch a website, twiddle your thumbs and wait for customers to flock to you.
Those days are long gone.
The truth is, to gain an edge over your competition, today, you need to write content that provides the best, most thorough answers to your prospective customers’ questions.
That means choosing well-thought-out topics, conducting thorough keyword research and writing content that other authority domains in your niche can’t help but link to.
The problem, though, is writing can be challenging (especially if you’re not a writer).
You’re left asking questions like:
- “How do I know what my customers’ pain points are?”
- “How do I rank my content on Google?”
- “How do I model my competitors’ keywords?”
And so on.
These are some of the most commonly asked questions, and that’s why, today, I’m going to show you how to choose a well-thought-out topic for a blog post, research keywords that will help you rank on Google (and outperform your competitors) and engage your readers so you gain more trust, generate more leads and position yourself as an authority in your niche.
Let’s get started.
Step 1. Choose a Topic
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
- You sit down to write a blog post
- You write about what you ‘feel’ like or worse, what you ‘think’ your target audience wants to read about
- You hit ‘publish’ and…
- You pray Google will rank you
I’ve got news for you:
The publish and pray approach does NOT work.
I know, because I’ve been there.
(And I’m guessing you have, too.)
Sure, you might get some views. But some views don’t justify the cost of the labor (especially when you could be working elsewhere on your business).
The truth is if you’re serious about outranking your competitors, you need to be very strategic about what you’re going to cover before you sit down to write.
To do this, you’re going to need to learn what your target market is struggling with.
And the best way to do that is to create a customer avatar.
A customer avatar is a fictional character that represents your ideal prospect.
Digital Marketer recommends considering four areas when creating your customer avatar:
- Goals and values
- Challenges and pain points
- Sources of information
- Objections & role in purchasing process
In order to market your products and services effectively, you need to get inside your customer’s head.
- “What questions are they typing into Google?”
- “What words are they using?”
- “What are they struggling with?”
For example, if you’re running a dental practice, your customer avatar might look like this:
- Goals and values. John wants to improve his teeth because he wants to attract a partner.
- Challenges and pain points. He’s embarrassed to go to the dentist and he can’t afford the procedure needed to correct them.
- Sources of information. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/
- Objections & role in purchasing process. How long will the procedure take?
The best type of customers to write for are early adopters because they’re people who are already trying to solve their problem.
With early adopters, you have an opportunity to present a new, previously unconsidered solution to them—and take credit when they solve it.
Once you’re clear on who you’re serving, you need to go where they hang out online before you settle on your chosen topic.
Here are a few ideas on where to do that.
Quora is a question-and-answer website where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users.
Quora is effective when researching topics for blog posts because:
- Your target market is asking real questions based on real problems they have (and are looking for answers from authorities in that field).
- You can gauge how popular an answer is by the number of upvotes it receives. The more upvotes an answer receives, the more helpful it is—and the more likely we can model it for our content.
Returning to the dental practice example, let’s imagine you want to write a blog post about the importance of dental hygiene.
Here’s how you would research that topic on Quora:
1. Go to Quora:
2. Type in your chosen topic:
In our example, I’ve used ‘dental hygiene’ (although this will work for any niche you’re in.)
3. Make a note of the questions readers are asking—and answers that have already been provided.
One question asks, “What is the best time to brush your teeth?”
Not only does Scott Frey have the top-voted answer, he ranks #2 on Google for, “What is the best time to brush your teeth?”
(Can you imagine how much traffic Scott receives for this answer alone?)
4. Build on the top answer
Take a look at Scott’s answer.
He’s included an image, a thorough answer, he’s formatted it for web reading (italics, boldness, bullet points, etc.) and he’s linked back to his website in the footer.
This is how you need to write your blog post.
But take a closer look…
Could you expand on his answer?
For instance, could you:
- Elaborate on why brushing in the morning is the best time
- Cite your answer with empirical proof (e.g. peer-to-peer research studies)
- Add relevant illustrations
- Link to other authority domains
- Address common objections to brushing in the morning
Don’t be afraid to go deep on a subject.
Remember, the more thorough you are in your answer, the more likely readers will upvote it and the higher Google will rank you.
Reddit is a popular news aggregation website where members can submit content then vote submissions up or down to organize the posts and determine their position on the site’s pages.
Similar to Quora, Reddit provides an insight into your target market’s mind through ‘subreddits’: topics organized by areas of interest.
Let’s return to our dental practice example. If you were compiling research for your blog post, “How to Whiten Teeth with Braces”, you could research subreddits that are relevant to that topic.
Use the string search: “Reddit + [TOPIC]” (without quotations.)
Here’s what I found using “Reddit + dental”:
There are several subreddits related to dentistry including r/dentistry or r/dentalschool and r/dentalhygiene.
You can tell how popular a subreddit by how many followers it has:
While not as popular as r/dentistry, the questions are more closely related to our chosen topic.
Look at the questions people are posting:
While it’s not recommended posting a link back to your article in your answer, (Redditors can flame you for that), it is recommended you record any questions that could potentially be used for your chosen topic.
Marketers love Reddit because it provides unlimited research opportunities for any niche.
Here are a few more I found when researching this post:
- Dog training (r/dogtraining)
- Mortgage investing (r/realestate)
- Pest control (r/pestcontrol)
- Recruitment (r/recruitment)
Once you’ve identified who you’re writing for and what topic you’re going to write about, you need to research keywords your target market are using.
Step 2. Do Keyword Research
Without keywords, there’s no such thing as SEO.
In other words, without choosing a keyword for your blog post, and writing in a way Google approve of, you’re unlikely to generate any traffic.
To avoid that, you’re going to need to:
- Analyze your top competitors’ keywords
- Find keywords they haven’t targeted
Let’s look at how to do that
1. How to analyze your top competitors’ keywords
If a competitor has domain authority, you need to realize their status didn’t happen by default.
It happens by design.
They were meticulous in their keyword research and published content so valuable, other authority domains couldn’t help but link to it.
To think like a competitor, you need to familiarize yourself with how they implement their on-page SEO.
To do that, type in a competitor’s name on Google, or the topic you’re hoping to rank for.
Here are the first three search results for, “How to Whiten Teeth with Braces”:
By modeling the top search results, you can familiarize yourself with the standard you need to be aiming for.
- The SEO title
- The URL
- The meta-description (the 160 character snippet that summarizes the page’s content.)
Take ‘Teeth Whitening at Home’, for example. They use an open-loop in their meta-description to entice the reader to click-through:
Is that something you could model for your post?
Make a note of what’s working well for your competitors and improve on it.
Sometimes a competitor wasn’t thorough in their research and they got lucky with their ranking because they lacked competition. This gives you a perfect opportunity to outrank them and it’s where our next step comes in.
2. How to find untapped keywords
Most people do keyword research like this:
- They log into Google Keyword Planner
- They type in a keyword they ‘think’ their customer would search for
- They make a note of keyword ideas and include them in their blog post
This strategy works, to an extent, but there’s problem with this strategy:
Everybody is doing it.
Think about it:
Everybody is using the same tool and targeting the same keywords.
No wonder it’s so difficult to rank for a topic.
You’re not going to do that.
Instead, you’re going to use several keyword tools to cast a wider net and find keywords your competitors haven’t even considered.
By discovering the latent semantic index (LSI) or thematic keywords for your post, you’ll help Google understand the topic of your content and drive a TON of traffic to your page.
Here’s how to do that:
1. Go to Übersuggest.io and type in your chosen topic:
Here are the search results for, “How to Whiten Teeth with Braces”:
2. Next, click, ‘View as text’ and copy all the search results:
3. Finally, go to Google Keyword Planner, click, Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category’, and paste the search results:
Note: if you have too many keywords, you’ll see this alert:
Remove any irrelevant keywords and click, ‘Get ideas’.
You’ll now have a list of keywords Google Keyword Planner wouldn’t have considered otherwise:
This provides you with a list of keywords you could potentially include in your blog post. For example, “How to Whiten Teeth” could be included in your headline and a subheadline.
Ideally, you want to target keywords with a high number of monthly searches. Thirty thousand monthly search with low competition is good. One hundred thousand is even better.
When researching, you need to check whether your competitor’s content is ranking the content page and not the homepage of their website. This is important when writing long-form content because it’s easier to outrank a competitor’s content page than their home page.
A competitor’s homepage will be older and likely have more backlinks.
However, once you’ve written your blog post, over time, you’ll be able to link to your homepage and even rank for keywords your competitor is currently ranking for.
Once you’ve chosen your topic and conducted your keyword research, you’re ready to write your blog post.
Step 3. Write Content
In order to outrank your competitor, you need to either:
- Write a blog post that addresses a need your competitor hasn’t touched upon or…
- Improve on your competitors’ work using a strategy like The Skyscraper Technique
The latter sounds intimidating, I know, but it’s a lot easier than you think (even if you’re in a niche market.)
Let’s return to our dental practice example once more.
Remember the top search result?
It was Colgate.
You might think to yourself:
“How am I supposed to compete with Colgate?”
Take a look at their blog post:
While good, it lacks images, citations and it’s only 533 words.
Can you imagine how easy it would be to expand on this?
With a more thorough, in-depth and informative post that’s easy-to-read, it would be much easier to reach out to influencers and ask for a backlink.
(You might even be able to persuade Colgate themselves to link to it.)
The problem is most business owners are intimidated by the thought of writing.
They don’t consider themselves writers.
And the thought of doing a TON of research before even sitting down to write is enough to put them off.
I want to share with you a secret:
You don’t need to be the next Ernest Hemingway to write content that ranks on Google. Nor do you have to be a writer.
You just have to be able to solve a problem your target market has.
Here what I recommend…
1. Create an outline
An outline will help you think through the various stage of your blog post, think about your research, consider it from several perspectives, and devise a plan appropriate to your audience.
Let’s return to our previous example of, “How to Whiten Teeth with Braces.”
Write down what you could include without censoring yourself.
- Is it okay to whiten teeth with braces?
- What to look for in teeth whitening products and services
- Why whitening teeth with braces is difficult (and what to do about it)
- Why you should whiten your teeth while wearing braces
- How to whiten teeth with braces
Once you’ve done that, you can reorder your main points into a logical sequence.
It might look like this:
- Why it’s okay to whiten teeth with braces
- What to be aware of
- Why you should whiten your teeth while wearing braces
- What to look for in teeth whitening products and services
- How to whiten teeth with braces
- Step 1
- Step 2
- Step 3
Don’t spend more than 30-minutes on your outline. What’s most important is the next step.
There’s a temptation to outsource writing.
You want to have consistency in your writing style and there only way to achieve that:
No one ‘gets’ your customers better than you, the business owner.
Why not reflect that in your writing?
If you’re still opposed to writing, the following will help streamline the process:
- Write in a friendly, conversational style. The best writers online write as if they were writing an email to a friend. And you should, too. Use ‘power words’ like ‘you’ and ‘your’. They speak directly to the reader.
- Be thorough. In his research on Google’s ranking factors, Brian Dean found content length correlated with search engine result position (SERP). Don’t be afraid to go in-depth on your topic. Remember, the more thorough you are, the more value you’ll offer your reader—and the more likely you’ll outrank your competitors.
- Write without censorship. There’s a tendency to hold back when writing. Don’t. Focus on completing what Anne Lamott calls “the s****y first draft” and polish it in your second and third draft (more on that in a moment.)
- Use data to support your points. Regardless of your industry, the best-performing content is backed by up-to-date data to support the main points. Don’t be afraid to link out to other influencers (even if that includes your competitors). Not only does it help foster relationships—it increases the likelihood of them linking backing to you.
- Write an attention-grabbing headline. This should include the keyword you’re targeting (preferably placed at the front of your title for on-page SEO). Be specific. ‘How to Whiten Your Teeth with Braces’ is good. ‘How to Whiten Teeth with Braces in 5 Minutes or Less’ is even better. For a more comprehensive understanding of how to write magnetic headlines, read Jon Morrow’s free guide, Headline Hacks.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.”
And truer words have never been spoken when it comes to writing authority content.
New York Times bestselling author Neil Strauss recommends drafting your work three times:
- Once for you
- Once for the reader
- Oncer for the critic
The latter ensures your argument is tight and can’t be nitpicked by an unruly reader.
Here are a few other recommendations:
- Read your blog post out loud. Do this from beginning to end. If there are any words or sentences that interrupt your flow, go back and rewrite them using the next suggestion.
- Delete filler words, phrases, and redundant words. Good writing is concise. And the best way to be concise is to remove any words that don’t provide your reader value. This includes filler words (‘really’, ‘very’, ‘literally’), grammar expletives (‘it takes time to whiten teeth’ instead of ‘whitening teeth takes time’) and phrases that have a single word alternative (‘find out’ rather than ‘discover’).
- Spell-check and look for inconsistencies. Use Grammarly to eliminate errors in your work. Not only will it find and correct mistakes your word processor misses, it will make you a better writer.
- Include LSI keywords. LSI (latent semantic index) keywords are words related to your keyword. These are other keywords you discovered in Step 2. Be sure to include these in your copy but don’t keyword include them for the sake of it. Remember, write for humans first, Google second.
- Check your Flesch-Kincaid score. This determines what grade level people can understand your content. Use Hemingway app to do that. The best content creators write around a 4th-grade reading level meaning the average 10-year-old could follow it. This is a good thing because if your content is complex, you’ll alienate a good portion of your audience. Focus on simplicity and your readership will skyrocket.
Writing is a skill.
And like any skill, it requires practice.
Carve out time once a week where you write a blog post and I promise you—it will pay dividends.
There’s no denying it:
The ‘movers and shakers’ of your industry are investing in writing rich, powerful content that helps their audience.
And for good reason:
Without it, you’re likely to fall by the wayside.
But with thorough keyword research and remarkable content, you have the potential to skyrocket your business (regardless of your industry).
Your competitors are already doing it.
The question is:
Will you join them?
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to doing keyword research? Leave a comment below.